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Sweet success for Bengal as Rosogolla wins a GI tag

Sulagna Sengupta | Updated on: 14 November 2017, 22:04 IST
(File photo)

West Bengal won a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the iconic Rosogolla after a protracted legal battle with neighbouring Odisha.

GI is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) website.

The two east Indian states have claimed to be the place of origin of Rosogolla, or Rasgullas, for the sweetmeat – cottage cheese dumplings dunked in sugary syrup. The seriousness of the debate could be gauged by the way Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Sweet news for us all. We are very happy and proud that Bengal has been granted GI status for Rosogolla”.

The victory came after Bengal's sweetmakers furnished documents to prove Rosogolla was indeed developed in the state.

“Nobin Chandra Das, my great-grandfather first made Rosogolla,” said Dhiman Das, executive director of Kolkata-based sweetmaker KC Das Pvt Ltd. “His son expanded the business that finally led to the sweet being exported in tins,” he added.

GI: What and why

According to WIPO, “in order to function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin.

“Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.”

It is one of the leading markers of security based on intellectual rights today. Several items like the Roquefort cheese and Georgian wine have benefitted by the classification. In India, the same can be said about Hyderabadi Haleem and Tirupati Laddoo.

The Das family moved to secure the GI tag after Odisha associated Rosogolla with the famous Puri Jagannath temple and claimed its legacy.

It was pointed out by some quarters that Rosogolla is made of 'chhana' or 'chhena' – unripened curd cheese – which is not used in offerings at the temple. The debate, though, went on and last year Naveen Patnaik's government even dedicated a day to the sweetmeat.

Das and others from the industry recounted how they were taken aback by Odisha's claim to the popular sweet, and how the GI tag came as a relief. After all, “Bengalis are often identified with Rosogolla,” said Sovan Mullick of another famed sweet-making firm, Balaram Mullick and Radharaman Mullick.

The fact that the state government threw its weight behind the industry helped it in its fight for the recognition. Now, the sweetmakers said, they are thinking of seeking GI tags for other iconic sweet varieties such as Shaktigarh’s Laengcha, Murshidabad’s Chana Bora and Roshokodombo as well as Krishnanagar’s Sar Bhaja and Sar Puria.

These, along with other items such as Mihidaana and Sitabhog from Bardhaman, have retained their popularity with the masses over the time.

Sweet Capital

At the same time Kolkata has developed a vibrant sweetmeat industry, which is nearly as old as the city itself. In fact, the most popular confectioners of the city have been around for over a century now.

According to KC Das's website, Nobin Ch Das discovered 'Rossogollas' in 1868 after experimenting for months. He appears to be some sort of a rebel – being from a family of renowned sugar merchants, he was apparently chided by his relatives for choosing to be a “lowly” moira (confectioner). He even married into the family of the famous confectioner Bhola Moira, who was his grandfather-in-law.

Far from the tiff over whose Rasogolla it is that we just saw, Nobin Das actually went out of his way to teach other confectioners the secret of the new sweet so that it becomes popular. That turned out to be a visionary move, considering the huge popularity Rasogolla received.

Das, however, was simply contributing to a legacy in the making: Bhim Chandra Nag is probably the oldest sweet-seller standing in Kolkata today. The shop was set up by Bhim Chandra's father Paran Chandra way back in 1826 in the city that had become the headquarters of the British East India company only a generation ago.

Such was the fame of Bhim Nag that he was once asked by the wife of the then viceroy of India, John Canning, to make her something special for her birthday. He responded with the deep fried Ledikeni (a corruption of 'Lady Canning').

In 1844, Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy, renowned for their Sandesh, set up shop. In 1885, Dwarik Ghosh started the trend of a seat-in shop, where sweets were sold by the plate. The same year, Balaram Mallik and Radharaman Mallik too made its debut. Most of them have now become brands unto them running franchises across the city.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 14 November 2017, 22:04 IST